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The story of Maui and the Giant fish

The story of Maui and the Giant fish

by | Jul 28, 2016

Māui and the giant fish

Māui dreamed of the day that he could go fishing with his older brothers. Each time his brothers returned from a fishing trip Māui would ask, “Next time, can I come fishing with you?”

But Māui’s brothers would always make an excuse. “No you’re much too young to come fishing with us. We need all the room in our waka for the many fish that we catch.”

Te Ika-a-Māui

“I’ll only take up a little bit of room, and I’ll stay out of trouble, I promise,” Māui would argue.

The eldest brother would reply, “You’re so skinny we might mistake you for some bait and throw you overboard for the fish to eat.”

Māui would get angry. “I’ll teach them, he’d say to himself, “I’ll prove how good I am!”

Secretly Māui hatched a plan to prove he was a great fisherman. One night when Māui was alone he began weaving a strong fishing line from flax. As he wove he recited an old karakia to give his fishing line strength.

When he was finished, Māui took a jawbone which his ancestor Murirangawhenua had given him, and bound it securely to the line. Early the next morning, Māui took his fishing line and secreted himself in the hull of his brothers’ canoe.

When Māui’s brothers pulled the canoe into the sea they noticed something a little different.

“The canoe is much heavier this morning, are you sure you’re helping?” said one.

“I think you’ve been eating too much kumara!” said another.

“Stop your bickering and get on with it!” said the eldest brother.

None of the brothers noticed Māui hiding in the hull. When Māui heard his brothers drop the anchor, he knew they were too far from land to return. Māui revealed himself to his brothers’ surprise.


“What are you doing here?”

“You tricked us!”

“No wonder we have not caught one single fish!”

The brothers were angry with Māui, but Māui spoke up.

“I have come to fish because Murirangawhenua said I would be a great fisherman. Let your lines down as I say my karakia and you’ll catch more fish than you ever have.” Māui began his karakia.

The brothers threw their lines into the water and instantly began catching fish. One after another they pulled their fish into the waka. In no time the waka was full and the brothers were delighted with their catch.

“We’re the best fishermen ever!” the brothers congratulated each other.

“Now it is my turn to fish,” said Māui.

The brothers laughed when Māui pulled his fishing line from his bag.

“Huh, you’ll be lucky to catch a piece of seaweed with that!”

“Or maybe a piece of driftwood to float home on!”

The brothers couldn’t contain their laughter. Māui didn’t listen, instead he recited his karakia and readied his line. “Can you give me some bait for my hook?” Māui asked his brothers.

But the brothers only laughed harder so Māui clenched his fist and hit himself hard on the nose. His nose bled and Māui covered his hook with his own blood. Māui then stood at the front of the canoe and whirled his line above his head as he recited his karakia. He spun his line out to sea, the line sunk deep to the ocean floor, down into the depths of the domain of Tangaroa, and instantly the hook was taken.

Māui’s line went suddenly taut. The brothers stopped their laughing and held tightly to the side of the waka as they began to speed across the ocean.

“Cut the line!” a brother called, clearly quaking in his seat.

“We’ll all be drowned,” said another. “Please Māui cut the line!”

But Māui held tight to his line, and slowly a giant fish was pulled to the surface. The brothers huddled in the waka shivering with fright. The giant fish towered over their small canoe.

“This is the fish that our grandmother, Murirangawhenua, said would be gifted to us,” Māui said. “Guard our fish, and I’ll soon return with our people.”

The brothers agreed to stay, and Māui headed back to Hawaiki. However as soon as Māui had gone, the brothers began chopping greedily at the huge fish, claiming huge pieces of it as their own.

When Māui returned, his people were amazed to see the giant fish.

“Māui is the best fisherman ever,” they marvelled.

As they neared the brothers were seen still chopping and arguing over which part of the fish was theirs. The people saw them for the greedy brothers that they were. They were so greedy that they had chopped huge gullies and mountains from the fish’s flesh.

Over many hundreds and thousands of years, these gullies and mountains became part of the landscape of Aotearoa as we know it today. Birds, plants, animals and the people of Hawaiki populated the giant fish of Māui. And in time Māui’s giant fish became known as the North Island of Aotearoa, and Māui’s canoe the South island.

This is the story of Māui and the giant fish.


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